Libya's mercenaries pose difficult issue to resolve
Muammar Qaddafi is likely relying heavily on African mercenaries, but if Libya falls to the anti-Qaddafi protesters, they're the ones who will have to figure out what to do with them.
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That gives us at least three categories of foreign fighters in Libya: foreigners who are part of the formal security forces, foreigners who are fighting for Qaddafi for political reasons, and foreigners who are killing Libyans primarily for money. Let’s add two more: those were coerced into fighting, and innocent persons accused of being mercenaries.Skip to next paragraph
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Regarding coercion, here is the account of one young Chadian:
“A man at the bus station in Sabha offered me a job and said I would get a free flight to Tripoli,” said Mohammed, a boy of about 16 who said he had arrived looking for work in the southern Libyan town only two weeks ago from Chad, where he had earned a living as a shepherd.
Instead of Tripoli, he was flown to an airport near the scruffy seaside town of Al-Bayda and had a gun thrust into his hands on the plane.
Gaddafi’s commanders told the ragbag army they had rounded up that rebels had taken over the eastern towns. The colonel would reward them if they killed protesters. If they refused, they would be shot themselves. The result was bloody mayhem.
With mercenaries and suspected mercenaries coming from so many different backgrounds, and with chaos in Libya, what will happen to Africans accused of fighting for Qaddafi? Some, currently held in jails by anti-Qaddafi forces, are “nervously await[ing] their fate.” Others will die in battle, of course, or in lynchings. Still others may escape back across the border.
What will not happen to the mercenaries, apparently, is prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
This means that mercenaries from countries such as Algeria, Ethiopia and Tunisia – which have all been named by rebel Libyan diplomats to the UN as being among the countries involved – would escape prosecution even if they were captured, because their nations are not members of the court.
The move was seen as an attempt to prevent a precedent that could see Americans prosecuted by the ICC for alleged crimes in other conflicts.
Toppling the Colonel is obviously the foremost goal for the anti-Qaddafi forces. But the problem of dealing with captured and accused mercenaries is one the rebels will have to solve if they take power – and, given the US’s stance on the issue, one they will have to deal with primarily at the domestic level. The issue of mercenaries will also affect the tone of Libya’s relations with other African countries in the post-Qaddafi era, if indeed that era comes.
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